By Akimine Kamijyo. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Magazine. Released in North America by Del Rey.
I have to admit, sometimes a series can surprise me. I've become so used to generic fighting shonen that when I see something out of the ordinary (at least for what's licensed over here), it really draws my attention. And for a first volume, Code: Breaker (from the author of Samurai Deeper Kyo) gets off to a great start.
It has several things going for it. Our hero is tortured, but not in a typical "wait till you learn of my tragic past" way, or even a "I am a complete ass to hide my sincere love of all humanity" way. Ogami is seen here killing several people throughout, painfully, by burning them to death. He seems, from what we've gathered so far, to regard himself as something less than human, and very much believes in vigilante justice. Of course, we suspect he DOES have a sincere love of all humanity, mostly from the little things. Killing a dog painlessly as he knows her injuries are irreparable. Going nuts on the yakuza thugs after seeing the adorable family photo of the man they've addicted to drugs.
I am not sure, however, that we'll ever see him gradually turn towards the light. It's a rare shonen series that has as its second cliffhanger the hero trying to KILL THE HEROINE. It's implied he was simply messing with her, but the whole thing is played deadly seriously. It's especially compelling as we genuinely like this heroine. Sakura is a girl who has the unfortunate luck to look just like a quiet, shy Japanese doll, even though she's a martial arts expert, freakishly strong, and somewhat of a busybody. She's spunky and likeable, yet at the same time we can see how irritating she would be to someone like Ogami.
It's not all burning flesh horror, of course. The school scenes are quite funny, mostly due to the interplay between the guys' image of Sakura and the misunderstandings of the interaction between her and Ogami. Basically any time Ogami has his eyes closed and is smiling happily is comedy gold, as seeing him being a jerk *is* fun here, mostly as he's not being presented as a hot romantic lead. In fact, I suspect what romance this series has will be small and vague.
Now, to be fair, I know of many shonen series that start strong and then turn into a series of suspiciously similar sidebattles. (That was far more alliterative than I'd planned.) I'll definitely get Volume 2, but much of my enjoyment will likely depend on how Sakura continues to be portrayed. Despite being a martial artist brawler, she's barely seen fighting here, and the author's previous series started with a strong female character then sidelined her. Shonen series, especially ones with lots of fights, depend on characterization and development to keep me going, as I don't really care about seeing 150 pages of fists flying and Secret Techniques.
Still, Volume 1 totally did its job. Characters I want to know more about, an evocative mood, and some cute humor to offset it (love that puppy!). Definitely recommended.